Last week, as climate change protests swept the globe, Canadian municipal representatives and academics gathered in Burlington, Ontario, to discuss the local impacts of climate change on municipal infrastructure services and the role local governments can play in strengthening climate resilience. 

A global leader in asset management and climate change adaptation research and consulting, PSD partnered with Oxford University to host a roundtable discussion entitled “Ensuring Sustainable Service Delivery: Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Asset Management.” The forum included representatives from major Canadian municipalities and urban centres, First Nations Technical Services Corporations, universities, and utilities. Climate change coordinators, asset managers, and engineers joined the discussion from communities as far as Regina and Halifax. 

The roundtable was a unique opportunity for municipal and First Nation leaders to convene with academics and practitioners in environmental science and infrastructure asset management. Joining the roundtable from the University of Oxford was Dr. Peter Walton, Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow with the Environmental Exchange Institute. Dr. Walton spoke to the importance of developing a network when tackling complex government challenges like climate change. “Sometimes you don’t have the money and the resources to develop a solution, so the best option is to build an informal network, just as we have created here today – a network where you can share ideas and support the work you are trying to do in your community.” 

Most of the roundtable participants indicated that they are in the early stages of developing climate change adaptation plans for their respective organizations. Progress has been slow as Canadian municipalities do not typically have dedicated staff for climate change adaptation work, although some communities have taken advantage of grant funding to support new hires. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP) has provided staff grants to successful municipal applicants to hire climate change coordinators for both climate change mitigation and adaptation activities.

Other challenges discussed by roundtable participants included a lack of understanding of the secondary and cascading impacts of climate change, such as the impact on vulnerable communities and on mental health, and difficulty with communicating climate change considerations to council and the public. Participants suggested forming a cross-departmental climate change committee to help build a corporate-wide adaptation strategy. However, participants also discussed the difficulty of establishing such a committee. In some cases, senior management and council support may be needed to encourage staff members to join the committee.

Aligning Adaptation with Asset Management for Greater Resilience
Central to the roundtable discussion was the role that infrastructure asset management can play in strengthening community resilience. According to participants, effective asset management prioritizes the capture of valuable data that can be used to support cost-benefit analysis for climate change adaptation efforts. With better asset data, municipalities can determine the costs avoided in the long-term as a result of taking climate change adaptation steps today.

Later in the week, PSD’s consulting team and Oxford’s Peter Walton travelled to St. Clair Township, just south of Sarnia, to facilitate a Climate Change and Asset Management State of Maturity Workshop. The Township’s senior management team and key representatives from public works took part in a day-long, comprehensive audit of their asset management practices and approaches. Dr. Walton and John Murray, PSD’s General Manager of Asset Management Strategies, led the discussions. The results of this assessment will determine St. Clair’s state of maturity related to climate change adaptation, asset management, and the integration of the two practice areas.

In collaboration with Township staff, PSD will also provide a roadmap, or path, to higher states of maturity.

The assessment included the status of the Township’s current practices related to lifecycle management, risk management, and capital planning strategies. Service managers and operators discussed specific vulnerabilities for the Township’s roads, bridges and culverts, community services, water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure. In particular, staff commented on the apparent negative impacts from rising water levels, intense rainfalls, increased frequency of freeze-thaw cycles, heavy winds, and lightning storms.

Climate change adaptation and asset management are both practice areas that require expertise and input from multiple departments. St. Clair’s Director of Public Works, Brian Black, commented on how the format of the workshop allowed for meaningful participation from across the organization: “We felt that it helped maximize the effectiveness of the information capture process.”

With the workshop complete, St. Clair will continue to work with PSD and the University of Oxford to assess the quality and integrity of climate and asset data the municipality has at its disposal to inform its adaptation efforts. The results of the State of Maturity Assessment and the Core Infrastructure Data Analysis will be used to help complete St. Clair’s first Climate Change Adaptation Plan. This project is part of the broader Climate Change and Asset Management Resiliency Roadmap (CARR) Pilot launched this year by PSD in partnership with the University of Oxford. The first phase of the Roadmap Pilot will prepare participating communities for climate change by assessing their capacity to address the impacts of the changing climate with a focus on asset management practices.

Local governments interested in participating in the CARR Pilot are encouraged to contact PSD at info@psdrcs.com for more information.

UPCOMING WEBINAR

Using Better Data to Identify Climate Change Related Infrastructure Vulnerabilities in Your Community

November 15, 2019 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM EDT

Register here